Through compositions full of theatrical imagery on the subject of good, evil and tragedy, Iraqi Modernist Kadhim Haider has formulated a unique painterly practice which fuses religious imagery with patriotic subject matter. Equally a poet and a writer, Haider’s career as an artist brought him great success and he became known and established as one of the true pioneers in Iraqi painting. As the President of the Society of Iraqi Plastic Artists and Union of Arab Artists in the 1970s, the artist made great strides in developing a national, Iraqi aesthetic. Like his contemporaries, the artist was fascinated by the subject of the Pan-Arab identity and drew a great deal of influence from Iraq’s religious and historical landscape.
Preempting his most renowned Martyr series the present charming work delves into the true roots of the artist’s practice. Breathing life into what seems to be a small township or village in Iraq, one can decipher the hills in the background and either the sun or moon whose rich triangular rays emanate from the top left of the canvas. What is most unusual about the composition of this piece is its sense of perspective. While the artist gives us some detail, such as an open window with rich orange curtains, he is quick to remove it favour of the dense abstract strokes which surround it. While the right hand portion of the canvas is piled high with a multitude of shapes in varying colour, size and style, the artist ironically uses the exaggerated flatness of each shape in order to create depth to the work. By harmonising a multitude shapes, their unique placement which was heavily inspired by Cubism, is juxtaposed by the three-dimensionality their figuration creates. Accentuated by the use of earthy, pastel hues, the artist articulates a more rural feel through the canvas. This aside, it was important to consider the significance of the particular scene the artist was depicting. This richly symbolic work was deeply inspired by the seventh-century Battle of Karbala, marking the beginning of the division of the Islamic faith. During the battle, the Prophet’s grandson Hussein was martyred and the present scene thus commemorates the tragedy within the city, obscured by the half-bloodied moon.
Through the use of abstract shapes and geometrical forms, Haider orchestrates each one of his pieces with a keen interest in its construction and perspective. The present work, composed of numerous coloured shapes depict the Iraqi landscape. Strongly influenced by scenes from Sumerian, Babylonian and Mesopotamian imagery, the artist was renowned for reappropriating more traditional subject matter and translating it through his own visual lexicon. With an aesthetic vocabulary that exudes an organic simplicity, Haider’s works come to life through a medley of shapes. This attention to construction and architectural orchestration of forms across his works are the result of the artist’s interest and study of stage sets. Directing the placement of every brushstroke, this influenced the way he meticulously translated his abstract forms onto the canvas.